By Nuru Ahmed

Despite the reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases in Kenya being a welcome trend, the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against the situation being interpreted to mean a true decline in the spread of the disease.

“While the positivity rate gives an indication that the epidemic could be reducing, we note that this rate can be adequately interpreted only with comprehensive surveillance and testing of suspected cases,” a statement from the organization reads.

“We warn against premature relaxation of effective measures put in place by the Kenyan government. We advise and encourage that wearing of masks, frequent washing or sanitizing of hands, social distancing from persons in all public settings, restrictions on travel and gatherings should remain in place for now.”

WHO adds that it is important to interrogate if this is an indication of the country’s true flattening of the curve and how well it represents the national picture of the overall Covid-19 status.

One of the key guidelines for interpreting such a reduction is the WHO criteria for Health Authorities and decision makers to determine the level of epidemic control.

The epidemiology criteria underlines key features that assist to interpret a county’s pandemic status. It includes: decline of at least 50% over a three-week period since the latest peak and continuous reduction in the observed incidence of confirmed and probable cases; less than 5% of samples positive for COVID-19, at least for the last two weeks, assuming that surveillance for suspected cases is comprehensive; at least 80% of cases are from contact lists and can be linked to known clusters; decline in the number of deaths among confirmed and probable cases at least for the last three weeks ; and continuous reduction in the number of hospitalization and ICU admissions of
confirmed and probable cases at least for the last two weeks.

Since 13 March 2020, when Kenya reported its first confirmed COVID-19 case, the country has progressively witnessed an increase in the number of cases and a widening of geographical scope of infection.

There were 34,057 confirmed cases as at 30 August 2020, and all 47 counties have reported cases with Nairobi and Mombasa counties being with the highest cases of 441 and 196 cases per 100,000 populations. The country had tested and reported on a cumulative total of 438,712 samples.

During the said period of reductions, it has been noted that the country registered fewer laboratory tests. Moreover, it has been observed that the testing strategy was not adhered to strictly during the period, in that low risk groups were tested instead of the high risk groups who include health workers and truck drivers.

Some laboratories helping counties reported lack of test kits, specimen collection kits and did limited tests for suspected cases and their contacts. There has also been minimal contact tracing going in the recent past, which would have given more accurate transmission numbers and status.